UniKL bubbling with joy ahead of tough weekend

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The mood in Universiti Kuala Lumpur (UniKL) team was one of seriousness during a two-hour workout at the Tengku Abdullah Stadium in Bangi as the 2018 overall champions prepare for two crucial TNB-MHL Premier Division matches this weekend.

Arul Selvaraj’s team go head-to-head against Maybank on Friday (February 1) and take on Terengganu Hockey Team (THT) two days later at the stadium in Bangi – home of UniKL.

The Dutch-connection of Robbert Kemperman, Martijn Havenga and Valentin Verga together with Australian Kieran Govers put in a lot of effort under the blistering sun to get their act right alongside their Malaysian teammates.

Goalkeepers David Harte from Ireland and his young Malaysian counterpart Adrian Andy Albert had a gruelling session too under the hawk-eye of Arul.

Missing from yesterday’s training session were drag-flick specialist Razie Rahim, defender Sukri Mutalib and UniKL captain Marhan Jalil. All three were attending national team training some 10km away at the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil for the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup scheduled in Ipoh next month.

The trio are expected to join UniKL training base on Thursday.

However, during a short water-break, the mood in the team quickly changed to laughter when Kemperman quipped that he was glad UniKL is sitting top of the pool, ahead of Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB). The Dutchman was, however, shell-shocked when corrected. When told that UniKL are second in the pool with 13 points – two behind TNB whilst THT moved one rung below, he burst out in astonishment.

“No way! We beat TNB the other day and drew with THT,” came the reply from Kemperman. “How did this happen? Okay, so we are second. But this is not going to happen. We will go top of the pool. I have trust in this team, so much confidence.”

“We are improving each game and it is still a long way to go. Stay calm and have confidence. That is my advice to everyone in the team. We need to train together and improve the game. The international (foreign signings) players are here for two weeks and we are getting used to the temperature, fans and the local culture,” he added.

“We are getting our rhythm. There are a lot of moments together with team. We are mentally strong even when down by a goal and you can see how we came back gradually into the game, said Kemperman, who together with Verga, featured in the 2018 World Cup for Netherlands in Bhubaneswar, India.

Kookaburras’ Govers, who has three Champions Trophy wins, two World Cup titles, a commonwealth Games gold and a London 2012 Olympics bronze medal, echoed that sometimes it is difficult training without the full team due to Malaysian national team commitment by Razie, Sukri and Marhan but it is good for the youngsters to gain more experience playing with international players.

“Arul has a good game plan and we just need to stick to it in games and the results hopefully go in a win for us. In two matches we allowed our opponents to score early. I think that is because we always expect to score first and sometimes enough effort isn’t there. But when we go from first gear to sixth gear we can change the game in five minutes by scoring three goals,” said Govers.

“It is something that we know that we always start slow. We talked about it in every game and try to fix this situation. I watched Maybank almost beat THT the other day. They are a good team. Any team can beat any team on a day if you put in effort. It does not mean that when you have many national players things look good but when a lower-ranked team puts effort in its game.. anything can happen. That’s dangerous!”

Harte, who has been in the team for the last two seasons, echoed It is not going to be an easy game against Maybank but UniKL have the confidence to come through with a win.

“We have the quality in this team. There is plenty of room for improvement. Having three international players in the form of Razie, Sukri and Marhan has been very good for us. They are very experienced players. We are much better than previous seasons. With the young boys coming through and the mixture of international players we have a great side to face Maybank on Friday and THT on Sunday,” said Harte.

“We can start looking at Sunday’s game (THT) but ultimately we need to face Maybank first.. a very good side with hard fighters. I am confident we will come away with a good win,” said Harte.

The Irishman, however, is concern on the early goals scored by their opponents especially in the first quarter but dismissed of any pressure on UniKL in making recovery after the setback.

“There is definitely no pressure on us but I see it as a wake-up call! All the players that represent UniKL this year have so much international experience and they won’t feel any pressure. We need to get out of the ‘comfort zone’ and say hey let’s go and do it. Get the job done!”

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